Challenger Logo by Alan White   A Science Fiction Fanzine   Winter 2008


A Law of Controversy

Gregory Benford

Recently a friend pointed me to Wikipedia, font of all provisional knowledge, to see an entry on my Law of Controversy. I was bemused to find it came from a sentence in my novel Timescape, written nearly 30 years ago, which I had utterly forgotten. Since then John Brockman, Agent to Scientists (though not to me) asked to use it in a set of such called "WHAT IS YOUR FORMULA? YOUR EQUATION? YOUR ALGORITHM?". They are online at:

Actually, it's a good idea: scientists do have shortcut formulas and ways of ordering life that probably others don't. Here's my entry:

 P = K

Which means: Passion is inversely proportional to the amount of real information available.

Here I is not just Shannon's definition of information (counting digital bits in a message) but rather, what has been checked and is known to be true. The constant K varies with the field of endeavor. Five hundred years ago, planetary orbits were controversial: sun-centered or not? Now we know them precisely -- I goes to infinity so P approaches 0. Still, the theory of evolution is not controversial among biologists, because I is large, though not infinite (this means K for biologists is very small). Among laymen of a religious bent, though, few actually attack evolution for its lack of theory or data. Something else is in play. This suggests the Law should an extra term,

 P = K + E

Here E stands for emotion, which contributes to controversy independently of what's known. This connects with what I call Bertrand Russell's Law of Friction

 R = C S2

The resistance to a new idea increases as the square of its significance. Here C is a constant and S stands for significance. In public debate, keep both these Laws in mind!


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